Recently, commentators have linked the breakdown of the traditional family to a variety of society’s ills, from teenage binge drinking to the London riots.
This month we’ve had Child Protection Week, followed by Foster Care Week – alerting us to the fact that many children are casualties of families that can’t cope.
Research tells us that how we interact with children during the first few years of their lives can determine how they learn and behave for the rest of their lives. Studies show that neglect, stress and trauma in early life can have long-lasting and severe effects on children throughout their lives. With the right support, children can recover from early life trauma, but it becomes difficult if they continue to be exposed to a distressing home life.
There is strong evidence that children who feel a secure attachment to a sensitive and responsive adult early in life relate better with their peers, have fewer behavioral problems and are more able to cope with the challenges life throws at them.
With the modern family taking an increasing range of shapes and sizes it’s important to acknowledge that this secure attachment children need in early life doesn’t just take one form. Children can get the love and nurturing they need from a single parent, or a same-sex couple or a stepparent.
If there is an adult in a child’s life who is consistently present and able to meet his or her emotional needs, the child will have a much better chance of a positive future.
The importance of foster carers who step in to provide this stability and nurturing when families simply can’t cope can’t be underestimated. By giving children a stable and caring home, foster carers can and do turn children’s lives around.
We are right to focus on the importance of family, and we need to do more to support families to develop strong and resilient relationships. With more than 17,000 children in care in NSW we also need to acknowledge the importance of providing all children with a stable home environment, whatever that looks like.
What children really need is someone who can care for and nurture them and guide their development. We owe it to our children to embrace and support Australian families in all their shapes and forms, including foster families.
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